the Little Red Reviewer

Foundation read-along, part one

Posted on: January 9, 2012

This post is part of Stainless Steel Dropping’s Foundation read along, and coincidentally enough, works into my Vintage Sci Fi month as well. Written by Isaac Asimov as a series of short stories in the 1940s and published as such in Astounding Magazine, they would not be bound as the trilogy of novels we know today until the 1950’s, and then to far more fanfare in the 1960s. In 1966 the Foundation series won the Hugo for “best series”. Forty years after Asimov started typing that first Foundation story, he was paid one of the largest advances ever to write a fourth  Foundation series, which was published in 1982 as Foundation’s Edge.

A story of a galactic empire in ruins, and one man’s mission to save it. A mission that couldn’t be started until long after he died. Hari Seldon knew what he was getting himself info, but Isaac Asimov couldn’t have possibly guessed in 1941, what he was getting himself into.

When Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings told me a while ago he would be doing a Foundation read along in January, I was thrilled. What better way to introduce people to the masterpiece that is Foundation than through an easy to follow yet casually guided read along? He’s split the book in half, and since the whole thing is barely 300 pages long, that’s some easy readin’.  I seem to (re)read Foundation every ten years or so, sometimes going forwards or backwards in the chronology, sometimes not. Last time I read the books I was in college (and still living on campus!) so it was certainly time for me to be reading Foundation again.

Carl provided some conversation starters to use as a jumping off point, lets see where this takes us, shall we?

For those who have read it before, how has it held up to your memory/feelings about previous reads?

Like I said, it’s been about ten years (yikes, maybe longer!) since I last read Foundation. I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t hold up, that I’d be bored, or underwhelmed, or annoyed by the characters.  I shouldn’t have worried my pretty little head. Foundation is so far even better than I remember it. In fact, I feel like I’m finally old enough to understand it.

What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far? (I am referring to the brief glimpses of different parts of the history of the Foundation with big time gaps between events in the novel)

The structure seems to be working just fine for me. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded if the introduction had gone on a little longer, it would have been interesting to see what happened to Dornick, but he’s not a main character.  Asimov has very little time to tell a very long story, so he’s got no choice but to only give us the highlights during times of crisis. Another interesting side effect of this having originally been written for publication in magazines is that space was at a premium. Sure, the story could be “long”, but not too long.  If this was written today, I’m sure the book would be like 800 pages long.

What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?

it’s fascinating. It reminds me a little bit of studies that are done on the movements of birds and insects.  If you have a flock of so many birds, or a swarm of so many bugs, they will tend to fly in certain patterns and do certain things. As long as you have enough birds or bugs, you can get a predictable result. Human beings are the same way.  We like to think we’re all unique and unpredictable and special and have free will, and we’re all of those things, yet we’re not. It’s always crushing to get to the end of a personality test only to find you’re pretty much exactly the same as 45% of the Earth’s population.  Instinct is a powerful beast, and I doubt that we’ll ever evolve to a point where we can escape it.    Psychohistory is about making our inescapable animal instincts work for us instead of against us.  Pretty cool, huh?  Only problem is the results take a really, really, really long time.

What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?

oh, wow, like everything!  I love the opening, I love the characters, I love how Hardin is a sneaky bastard, I love the time vault, there is nothing I don’t like about this book!

There are all these snippets of wonderfulness on nearly any page you look at. The framed quote behind Hardin’s desk that reads “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, the idea of how stagnation is simply a slow death sentence, science as religious magic. . .

You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire.  Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do  you think it would work?

It’s certainly practical for humanity to “try” to have a galaxy spanning government. We like to think we’re capable of anything and that “government” = “good”. But for anyone who thinks a galaxy spanning government  would work, I got two words for ya: Roman. Empire.

What are your thoughts on Hardin’s creation of a religious system in which to house scientific ideas and technology while keeping the users of that science and technology in the dark?

Oh, I thought it was hilarious, in a dark comedy way. People are far more trusting of things they can have faith in (religion) that in things that are cut, dry, and provable, such as science and math. But it is science and math that save our lives, allow us to see into the far reaches of the universe, treat and cure diseases, and enhance our lives in countless ways.  We need science to survive. But if people won’t trust it because it’s too “sciency”, give them something they will trust: priests.  There is a scene where Hardin is defending the training of priests with how to treat cancer, and they think it’s magic food. I was laughing my butt off.

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15 Responses to "Foundation read-along, part one"

Wonderful that you are enjoying it so much again. You bring up a good point with age and understanding. I look at my feelings of intimidation about the series when I was a kid as something of a blessing, because I don’t think I would have understood a lot of what was happening back when I first started reading sf, and it may have marred my feelings towards the book. It is hard to tell, but I’m happy that my first reading of Foundation was one that sparked a strong positive reaction to it and I think my age and knowledge went a long way towards me feeling that the novel is very accessible.

You are also correct, written today this one would be a chunkster filled with way too much background detail. It is a nod to Asimov’s skill that he is able to get his points across without a great deal of verbosity.

Love your thoughts on psychohistory. There is a lot of the predictability of crowd behavior in the idea that Seldon could look ahead and see the writing on the wall.

Hardin is very clever and manipulative. He reminds me of the idea of a business tycoon or the boss of a political machine. He is manipulating things to meet his own ends and yet I see in him some altruism as well in that protecting his own ends is also protecting the Foundation and that a side effect of some of his actions, including hiding science behind religious doctrine, is that people benefit from those things in spite of themselves.

Be sure to include a link to this over on my post. I’m hoping everyone gets new visitors to their site during this discussion.

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Hardin’s the kind of person that I can both dislike and respect at the same time. He’s a manipulative little bugger, and gives off the impression of dishonesty, but at the same time he’s what’s necessary to get the job done, and I don’t envy his position.

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I couldn’t agree more, Grace. I respect and like the guy because the story puts us on the side of the Foundation, but at the same time he practices the kind of politics that makes me feel a revulsion.

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Yup, finally got over to Stainless to link up, finally. Been that kinda day.

Hardin has the best interests of the Foundation at heart, but he can be totally manipulative. Wouldn’t that be an interesting read: Foundation from the side of Anacreon, or some other affected planet!

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I don’t know why, I trust Hardin more than Seldon. Yes he is a manipulator, but I haven’t heard of a politician who isn’t. I could be totally off base here and it might be due to the fact that I don’t know Seldon’s true purpose yet.

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I like this idea of seeing Anacreon’s side of things! That I would read as well!

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I read teh trilogy (well, audiobooked it) just like a year and half ago for the first time. It was amazing. Up there with Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. I should really pick up the rest of the series. The scope, both spacially and over time, was immense and still gets me thinking.

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Actually this book is soon to arrive from the library within the next couple of days. I have heard nothing but great things of this series. So I will see what i think of Asimov.

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Do you want to try to get caught up and join us, Clint?

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Hello Carl I am going to try to caught up and the group for the Foundation.

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Perfect! We won’t be starting the second book for another week and a half so hopefully that will help too.

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Thanks for the background information. I didn’t know any of that and it makes me even more curious about Asimov and the rest of the series.

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I think the thing with Hardin is that you know he’s up to something so it feels like you can make a bit more of a reasonable judgement whether to like him or not. Seldon just feels like an unknown quantity. He’s playing everyone along but I’m not sure if he’s doing it for the sake of humanity or not! He makes predictions but then he keeps popping up and prompting people so that they’ll go to the effort of making sure his predictions are correct. It’s like some sort of chicken and egg thing – I’m going round in circles thinking about it.
I like your thoughts about psychohistory – studies of flocking birds, etc.
Lynn :D

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Yes, I question Seldon’s motives. You have to wonder if he hadn’t made his prediction or established the Foundation if the Galactic Empire would have just kept on going the way it was.

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It’s very encouraging to know that quite a few members of the group read have read the series more than once and still love it. Definitely a winner!
Your comment on space being at a premium and thus just the highlights over a span of time makes me think of the opposite: authors like Dickens who were paid by the word. I love Dickens, but this is a very nice alternative.

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